The Zuni - A Mysterious People
The Zuni people, like other
are believed to be the descendents of the
Puebloans who lived in the desert Southwest
for a thousand years. Today the Zuni
some 35 miles south of
Gallup, New Mexico
has a population of about 6,000. Archeological evidence shows they
have lived in this location for about 1,300 years.
Their tribal name is A'shiwi (Shi'wi), meaning
"the flesh.” The name "Zuni”
was a Spanish adaptation of a word of unknown meaning. The
their own unique language which is unrelated to the languages of the other
Pueblo peoples and continue to practice their traditional shamanistic
religion with its regular ceremonies, dances, and mythology.
In the year 1540 the first Spanish
explorers encountered the Zuni Indians
living in six or seven large pueblos along the banks of the
River, of which, all are in ruins today.
These villages were
located next to fertile ground where the Zuni could take advantage of abundant water
Zuni had a successful and well-established
Zuni Pueblo in 1903, by
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The arrival of the Spaniards explorers disrupted the
Zuni's trading patterns, land
use, and settlement system, as well as introducing new diseases which
took a devastating toll among their population. However, the
Spaniards also introduced domestic livestock and new crops, including
wheat and peaches.
During the seventeenth century there was a decline in
the Zuni population and
subsequently, in the number of occupied villages. The attrition was
the result political pressure from the Spaniards, and raiding from the
Apache. Violence soon became
a regular part of the otherwise peaceful Zuni as they defended their land and
resources from encroachment from other groups and resisted Spanish
attempts to suppress their culture and religion.
Zunis joined with other pueblos in August of
1680 in the historic Pueblo Revolt which succeeded in driving the
Spaniards out of New Mexico.
Afterwards, the Zuni fled to the top of the Dowa Yalanne
mesa and prepared for defense. Between 1680 and 1692 the Zuni built and maintained a large settlement
that incorporated many pueblo rooms on the mesa top, an area of less
than 617 acres. Since it did not contain enough land to support the
entire Zuni population, the
Zuni continued to farm and graze livestock
in the valleys below.
Dowa Yalanne was pivotal in the development
Zuni settlement patterns as it was the first
village in which the whole Zuni population gathered into a single
settlement. Although it is unlikely that the other villages were
totally abandoned, apparently every Zuni family maintained a residence atop the
Dowa Yalanne that could be used for refuge when the Spaniards
returned. The mesa top was also a position defensible against the
hostile attacks of the
In 1692, Diego de Varga, the Spanish
general in charge of the "reconquest," entered the village peacefully,
made amends, and convinced the Zuni
to relinquish the occupation of Dowa Yalanne. Rather than return to their
former scattered pueblos, the entire tribe settled at at Halonawa on the
north bank of the Zuni
River. Following this event, Halonawa became known as the
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Navajo and Apache raiding led to the establishment of sheep
camps which were utilized as refuge sites. Situated along ridges and
on the benches throughout the Zuni River Valley, these safe areas were difficult to access, having many
hidden corrals and small rooms. Other refuge sites were established at the
base of mesas for agricultural purposes.
In 1848 the Americans asserted their authority over the
Mexican Southwest, and in 1877 federal officials created the Zuni
Reservation. The Southern Pacific Railroad reached nearby
in 1881, signaling a new era of non-Indian
expansion and settlement.
Missionaries accompanied the newcomers
including Mormons who settled east of the village in the
mountains in 1876, and Presbyterians a year later. Traders also
arrived, encouraging the
Zunis to raise sheep and cattle for shipment
east and a new cash based economy began.
are distinct in that they have managed to remain quite unaffected by outer
influences. They still claim the same land they always lived on, an area
about the size of Rhode Island. They also mainly reside in one city -- Zuni,
Although there are Zuni Indians
who live outside of the city and the general area, they are few and far
between. The tribe has managed to remain intact due to the fact that they
did not get involved in problems, conflicts, or wars that didn’t concern
their own people. Remaining autonomous, they were relatively unaffected by
the changes around them.
life, much like it was in the past, is still deeply religious and very
different from that of other tribes. The Zuni
gods are believed to reside in the lakes of
Arizona and New Mexico.
The chiefs and the shamans carry out ceremonies during religious
festivals. Song and dance accompanies masked performances by the chiefs
while the shamans pray to the gods for favors ranging from fertile soil to
abundant amounts of rain. The shamans play an important role in the
community as they are looked upon for guidance as well as knowledge and
people are, in a way, a mysterious tribe. The Zuni
Reservation is isolated from the outside world which allows the people to
go about their existence relatively unencumbered by modern western
civilization. They still live a peaceful, deeply religious existence. The
reliance on corn as a mainstay of their economy has been replaced,
however, by the tourist trade in pottery and jewelry.
of America, updated March, 2017.
Proverbs & Wisdom
Myths & Tales of Native Americans
Myths & Legends of the
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